Dear Editor

I recently heard that Yellowstone County is considering increasing the size of the Board of County Commissioners from three (3) member to five (5). This was done in Ravalli County, through our Local Government Review process in 2006. There were a number of factors that contributed to the decision, an effective campaign declaring that more commissioners would generate better decisions, increase representation and increase efficiency (in my opinion ALL of these claims were ultimately disproven…)

At the same time voters reduced the length of terms to four (4) years following a theory that they could correct ballot choices sooner. The concern is that you can potentially elect a new majority every four (4) years and could conceivably have a senior commissioner with only two (2) years’ experience, creating a suboptimal level for continuity of government. There was also a failed attempt to have commissioners elected by district, rather than at-large, in a partisan attempt to control at least one district for a political party.

A quick synopsis of the effect of increasing the number of commissioners:

—Cost increases:

     —Two more commissioners (66% increase)

    —Additional support staff (administrative assistant)

   —New office space/ furniture as required

   —Increased travel and training expenses

—Increasing the number of commissioners provided an opportunity to allow two (2) commissioners to legally discuss matters at a sub-quorum level outside of public meetings (behind closed doors).

—Debate took longer to address 5 opinions.

—The higher number of commissioners dilutes accountability of individual board members.

— There may be opportunities to gerrymander districts and increase the not only political divide, but also the urban vs rural divide…

When has bigger government been more efficient? In my opinion, it was a very bad decision for Ravalli County. In 2016 the voters overwhelmingly overturned the 2006 decision and returned us to a three (3) member board.

I hope Yellowstone County can learn from Ravalli County’s experience!


Greg Chilcott

Ravalli County Commissioner

The size of Billings’ labor force grew by 2000 over the first quarter of this year.

For the last quarter the size of Billings’ labor force – those employed and those seeking employment  —  has grown about two percent, and stands at 94,800. The labor force – people actually working — has also been growing over the past quarter … Billings has the largest labor force in the state more than double that of Great Falls and a quarter more than Missoula.

Statewide, the number of employed is about 578,000,

Both of these economic indicators probably reflect the increase in population in Billings but most interesting it says that the people who are coming here aren’t just retired people as has sometimes been claimed. The reality is Billings is growing the size of its labor force and therefore the size of its  economy.

 The only economic sector in Billings that declined slightly, over the past year, in the number employed was “business services.” Education and health services increased the most. Statewide construction is the sector that increased the most at 4.3 percent – and a category called “information” which is information technology and media types of businesses  was the only sector in the state to decline and it declined 6.9 percent.

The unemployment rate for Billings has been hovering right around 3.5 percent, which is extremely low compared to the nation and also compared to the rest of the state.

Another factor reported is that about ten percent of the workers in the US belong to unions and that amounts to about 14.5 million people. Since COVID, wages for non- union jobs have been escalating at a much higher rate than union jobs.

The consumer price index rose The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 12-month price growth accelerated from 3.2% in February to 3.5% in March.

Over the past five years, Americans have seen average prices increase more than 20% overall.

By Derek Draplin, The Center Square

Manufacturing activity declined last month in the Federal Reserve’s 10th District, while services activity increased, according to surveys from the bank’s Kansas City branch.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s 10th District covers Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming, and parts of New Mexico and Missouri.

The bank’s composite index for manufacturing in March was -7. The index for February was -4 and -9 in January. The composite index measures several other indexes such as production, employment, and raw materials inventory.

“Regional factory activity fell further in March, and expectations for future activity were again steady,” Chad Wilkerson, senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said in a statement. “Employment levels expanded modestly even as production and new orders contracted, and over half of firms have given mid-year wage increases recently but fewer plan to this year.”

Despite the drop in activity, “expectations for future activity were again steady,” according to the KC Fed. The future composite index in March was 1, which is down from 2 in February.

In service-related industries, activity grew in the district last month, but “expectations for future activity were flat.”

Much of the growth in Bozeman is due to the influx of illegal migrants, which makes it impossible to get an accurate account for the growth of the Spanish-speaking community in Bozeman because the majority of people are undocumented, reports a Spanish –written report in the High Country News.

The report was produced in collaboration with The Nation – a “Principled. Progressive. The Nation speaks truth to power to build a more just society.”

From the US Census data,  a report states that in Gallatin County, the percentage of Latinos increased from 2.8% to 5% between 2010 and 2020 (about 140%). The number is likely higher, since it does not include the period after 2021.

“The change is visible everywhere,” reports High Country News —  with the Mexican retail stores that opened in 2018, in the mobile taco restaurants along 7th Street, or in the youth soccer team “that waived registration fees for immigrant children.”

The public schools support the arrival of minors who speak several languages. The number of students needing help learning English in Bozeman public schools has doubled to 350. And, the schools do not have an adequate number of Spanish speaking students.

The High Country News article declared that the trend is a positive one for Bozeman. South North Nexus, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to immigrants, estimates that Hispanic immigrants contributed more than $300 million to Bozeman’s economy in 2022.

The illegal immigrants come from countries such as Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, and Honduras.

Immigrants seeking asylum, including many Hondurans, can’t apply for a work permit until the asylum request goes 150 days unresolved. It is estimated that by September 2024 there will be a record 8 million unresolved cases in U.S. immigration courts, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

That means that many of those who recently arrived in Bozeman can expect to wait more than a year before they are legally authorized to work. The article says that it is therefore “not surprising that many immigrants break the laws, taking jobs that pay in cash and living in fear of encountering law enforcement officers.” The article compares that as “the flip side” of one of the “most prominent and expensive real estate markets in the country.”

It is the Bozeman real estate markets and the rampant construction with its “insatiable” demand for workers that is drawing the immigrants.

The article makes the point that Montana is a state that has been built largely upon the contributions of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe and China. While claiming that “this is no different”, the article fails to underscore that those of yesteryear were legal immigrants.

A Bozeman attorney is quoted saying, ““What we’re experiencing with a construction boom in southwestern Montana is no different than the Butte mines. Hopefully, the working conditions are a little better, but it’s hard. The weather’s nasty. And there’s a language barrier.” 

The fact that illegal immigrants cannot work legally is described — “For Spanish-speaking immigrants, these daily difficulties, whether at work or in the form of a menacing legal system, are ever-present.”

Attempts at enforcing local laws is chalked up to “racial profiling,” which leaves illegal immigrants fearful.

The article makes the point, “But the robust housing market that draws these immigrants to Bozeman cannot provide them with reliable shelter, especially if they lack government-issued IDs, a credit history or a Social Security number. In any case, it is an extremely tight rental market.”

“Immigrants are forced to accept run-down, overcrowded housing: trailer parks, highway motels, rentals owned by their bosses. Either that, or they join the thousands of people who already sleep on the streets every night.”

The immigrants say that it is hard to make friends. They also complain that they are required to have hard-to-get IDs for many things, such as social security cards. Fake social security numbers cost $150 each.

Their illegal status also leaves them highly vulnerable as victims ofs crime – especially wage theft. Employers often don’t pay them, and the illegal immigrants have little recourse. Most of them, too, must worry about the trafficking of illegal drugs, as well as the traumatization that the change in cultures has imposed on their children – children who have sometimes experienced having been kidnapped.

The article places the blame for much of the illegal immigrants problems on Republicans who have resisted passing laws that would give immigrants “driving privilege cards,” and who the article says often demonize them.

At the same time there are many people in Bozeman who have reached out to the transplanted families, through organizations that are dedicated to providing them with assistance, as well as individual acts of kindness and contributions from food to medicine, including the payment of doctor bills.

Governor Greg Gianforte issued the following statement in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s new “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation” rule, which will take effect on June 10.

“Today’s announcement from the Bureau of Land Management is the latest attack in President Biden’s war on energy. By issuing this rule, the Bureau is undermining Congress by acting outside of its statutory authority,” Gov. Gianforte said. “This regulatory overreach will undoubtedly raise the cost of reliable energy for Montanans. Instead of promoting his radical green agenda, President Biden should be expanding natural gas production and prioritizing policies that provide affordable and reliable energy for American consumers.”

The recent rule follows one of several actions from the Biden administration that threaten American energy independence and businesses.

“Promoting and increasing access to apprenticeship opportunities and trades education empowers Montanans and ensures employers have a highly-skilled workforce,” said Governor Greg Gianforte as he highlight apprenticeship opportunities in Montana.

He made his statements while visiting with Dick Anderson Construction apprentices in Helena and at the Highlands College pre-apprenticeship program in Butte. He thanked Montana employers and educators for the important role they play in supporting apprenticeship opportunities and trades education. “We thank them for their investment,” he said.

The governor declared the week of May 5-11 as Youth Apprenticeship Week in Montana to emphasize the advantages of apprenticeships in enabling Montana workers and ensuring employers have access to a workforce with in-demand skills.

Since 2020, Montana’s Registered Apprenticeship Program, administered by the Department of Labor & Industry (DLI), has seen a 20 percent increase in active apprenticeship enrollment in over 100 different fields where workers receive paid, supervised, on-the-job training.

Dick Anderson Construction is one of more than 600 businesses that have partnered with the program that employ more than 3,000 apprentices statewide.

Highlighting apprenticeship opportunities within the company, the governor visited a Dick Anderson worksite in Helena to hear from apprentices on the impact of the program.

“When I came on the job, I knew nothing about construction. It’s been great to get a textbook instruction through first-hand experiences,” said Quinn, a Dick Anderson employee and former apprentice.

Dick Anderson’s Education Coordinator, Bill Ryan, added, “When our apprentices finish the four-year program, they gain a certificate of completion from DLI to be a carpenter and they have a job with us waiting for them.”

In 2022, Montana added more apprenticeships to the Registered Apprenticeship Program than ever before. Many of these were added following a rule change supported by the governor that went into effect that year.

While maintaining workplace safety and training standards, the revised rule changed the journeyman-to-apprentice ratio from 2:1 to 1:2. Now, one journeyman can supervise two apprentices.

And, to improve the skills of hardworking Montanans and address employers’ needs, the governor proposed and implemented the Montana Trades Education Credit (MTEC) in 2021. This credit offers employers credit for employee education and training, and it has nearly doubled MTEC in 2023.

Rounding out the day in Butte, the governor visited the Highlands College pre-apprenticeship line program to learn more about the opportunities available to students interested in becoming a line worker.

The one-semester, pre-apprentice line certificate program prepares students for groundman and apprentice positions within the line trade. Upon completion of the course, students also are provided the pathway to obtain a Class A Commercial Driver’s License before entering the workforce.

Partnering with local employers, the program helps to connect students to jobs in the construction and utilities industry after graduation.

Visiting with students in the program and watching a demonstration, the governor learned more about the course that instructs on how to assist with the installation, construction, maintenance, and repair of electrical power line systems.

Market analysts expect continued urbanization and increased infrastructure development to contribute to the predicted growth of the concrete materials market to $364 billion by 2028. Rather than try to eliminate use of the material, a collaboration between Kajima, The Chugoku Electric Power Co., Denka, and Landes Co. has created a world-first carbon-capturing concrete.

Called CO2-SUICOM, the new concrete uses heavy industry waste materials in place of traditional cement. Each mix reduces the amount of regular cement used by more than half, thereby significantly cutting emissions from the production process. Best of all, CO2-SUICOM uses carbon dioxide instead of water as the mixing agent required to make concrete harden and captures CO2 until the mixture is completely cured.

The new material can be made directly on-site at industry locations, with carbon dioxide and other exhaust emissions from manufacturing directed straight into a mixing chamber rather than into the air. As the materials in the mixer react to the carbon dioxide, the concrete hardens, trapping the emissions and exhaust inside. 

Customary manufacturing processes produce around 288 kilogrammes of carbon emissions per cubic metre of concrete created. CO2-SUICOM, on the other hand, traps 18 kilogrammes of carbon emissions per cubic metre of concrete – above and beyond net zero. The Japanese government has included CO2-SUICOM in its roadmap to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Two ranger stations, a significant tribal site, a shopping center, and an expanded hospital district all are nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Zortman and Main Boulder ranger stations include clusters of buildings constructed in the early 1900s by some of the first U.S. Forest Service employees.

The Main Boulder Ranger Station, located southwest of Big Timber, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continually operated USFS administrative facilities in the Northern Region 1, according to the nomination form. Starting in 1908, Harry Kaufman constructed the ranger station, outbuildings, and a home with a hand-crafted bay window, which today serves as a museum filled with his personal effects and original furnishings.

“The property captures the story of the life and duties of one of the earliest Rangers in the U.S. Forest Service and his attempts to establish government influence in the vast reaches of what is now the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness area,” the form states, adding that Kaufman’s diaries “gives a vivid picture of life for an early forest ranger.”

The Zortman Ranger Station buildings predate the log buildings commonly associated with Forest Service facilities presenting a simpler wood frame style that lack ornamentation, architecturally resembling the buildings that populate the community of Zortman.

It includes “functional buildings that reflect the rustic character promoted by the Forest Service in its early years,” the nomination form states. It served as a station for forest guards to monitor and fight forest fires and “timber predation” in what then was the Jefferson National Forest in central Montana. The property was transferred to the Bureau of Land Management in 1966.

The Head Chief-Young Mule Charge Site is just east of Lame Deer in Rosebud County on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. It was the site of a deadly confrontation between two young Northern Cheyenne men, Head Chief and Young Mule, and the U.S. Army cavalry on Sept. 13, 1890.

The property retains deep cultural significance to the Northern Cheyenne in many ways, notes the nomination form. The incident is recalled in a tribal warrior song, handed down through generations.

Head Chief fatally shot a young man who had stumbled across the Northern Cheyenne as they butchered a milk cow belonging to the young man’s uncle.

“Head Chief and Young Mule refused to submit to the military, and instead met their fate in a traditional manner, culminating in a dramatic mounted charge by Head Chief and Young Mule at army lines in full view of gathered Northern Cheyenne bands; the charge resulted in the deaths of both young men,” the nomination form states.

In Bozeman, the Westgate Village Shopping Center was built in 1957 and represents the first small neighborhood multi-unit retail shopping center in the city.

“Although a simple design, the building is characteristic of the mid-20th century Modern Movement style,” the nomination report states. It was designed by Hugo Eck, a locally famous architect and Montana State University professor.

The final nomination includes expanding the boundaries for the Lewis and Clark County Hospital District to include the Poor Farm Cemetery. The cemetery was used from 1890 to 1916. None of the burials are marked.

The nominations will be forwarded to the National Park Service’s for a final determination.

The Department of the Interior announced a grant of $71 million to help Tribal communities electrify their homes with clean energy sources. This is the second round of funding from the Office of Indian Affairs’ Tribal Electrification Program, part of an overall $150 million grant from the Inflation Reduction Act. Secretary Haaland announced $72 million in awards from the first round of funding earlier this year.

“As the Interior Department implements this new program, we will continue to support Tribes as they work to develop their electricity infrastructure and help meet our shared clean energy goals,” said Secretary Haaland. “Through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we’re providing reliable, resilient energy that Tribes can rely on, and advancing our work to tackle the climate crisis and build a clean energy future.”

A key pillar of Bidenomics, the President’s Investing in America agenda is deploying record investments to provide affordable high-speed internet, safer roads and bridges, modern wastewater and sanitations systems, clean drinking water, reliable and affordable electricity, and good paying jobs in every Tribal community.

A press release claims that the tax funded effort is to bring electricity to homes in Tribal communities that have never had electricity. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland reports that Tribal Nations have their own unique energy and electrification-related needs and implementation capacity.

In 2000, the Energy Information Administration reported estimated that 14 percent of households on Native American reservations had no access to electricity, which was 10 times higher than the national average. In 2022, the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy reported that 16,805 Tribal homes were unelectrified, with most being in the Southwest region and Alaska.

Through this funding, the program will provide financial and technical assistance to Tribes to connect homes to transmission and distribution that is powered by clean energy; provide electricity to unelectrified Tribal homes through zero-emissions energy systems; transition electrified Tribal homes to zero-emissions energy systems; and support associated home repairs and retrofitting necessary to install the zero-emissions energy systems. The program is also intended to support clean energy workforce development opportunities in Indian Country.

The Tribal Electrification Program also advances the Biden-Harris administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which was established by President Biden as part of his January 2021 Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The goal recognizes the importance of electricity to sustaining a higher standard of living and in curbing pollution. It set a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that have been marginalized by “underinvestment.”

Yellowstone County Commissioners are split on a proposed change in the regulations regarding the formation of subdivisions.

At issue are private roads in some subdivisions for which property owners believe the County should maintain their roads, having not realized the roads were private and therefore the responsibility of homeowners, or perhaps being members of a non-functioning home owners association (HOA) which fails to maintain roads.

Two of the commissioners, John Ostlund and Mark Morse, want to require that future subdivision developers in the county, wanting to provide private roads must have gated communities, so that it is clear to everyone that the roads are private and not public. Developers are often eager to make roads private because it lowers costs, even though initially the roads are required to be built to county standards.

Commissioner Don Jones said this is just “big government getting in the way.” Some HOA’s do work, said Jones, adding that in the market place it’s the buyer’s responsibility to know what they are purchasing. “Buyer beware,” he said. The means are available for homeowners to take care of roads themselves, including an increasing number of companies that are available to contract with HOAs to provide regular maintenance. “You are just putting on more regulations,” said Jones.

The commissioners pondered the issue at a discussion last Thursday afternoon, with Tim Miller who heads the Public Works Department and with Woody Woods who heads the county planning board. Both Miller and Woods agreed that HOA’s seldom work.

Ostlund said that as the homes are sold and resold information about the roads being private is not passed along to new buyers and they are later surprised and resistant to having to be responsible for maintaining them. Ostlund noted that gated communities do provide a measure of security.

County officials are proposing to change county subdivision regulations to require that every subdivision create a Rural Special Improvement District (RSID) and make roads public, unless the developer designs it to be a gated community, which makes it obvious that the roads are private. An RSID is a formal means of assessing and collecting the cost of road maintenance (and perhaps other maintenance needs) as a part of taxes, payment for which is treated just like payment of taxes.

Miller said that often nothing is done to keep the roads in good condition until they become so bad that it is very costly to bring them back to standards.

The county plays a role in not only establishing the RSID and collecting the revenues, but every year the Public Works Department analyzes the subdivision’s needs and arranges, usually through third party contracts, to do the work, which the county oversees, explained Miller. Property owners in the RSID can choose to adjust the revenue paid into their RSID or to extend collections to cover other needs, such as lighting etc.

The county can also assist subdivisions without RSIDs in creating one. It requires 60 percent approval of property owners in the subdivision.

The county commissioners have put forth a resolution which is currently before the county planning board to change the subdivision regulations. Miller said that the process will involve holding three public hearings in the community to explain the proposal to citizens.